I love movies and going to them is a great escape from things like cancer, well, except when the movie is about cancer! Perhaps it seems odd to some, but I can’t seem to read enough books or see too many movies about this topic. Go figure, right?
As a BRCA+ person myself, I was particularly interested in seeing Steven Bernstein’s newly released film, Decoding Annie Parker. For reasons I’m getting to, this is an important movie, and not just for families like mine impacted by hereditary cancer.
I was fortunate to recently have the opportunity to view Decoding Annie Parker. Dear hubby watched it with me, at my nudging of course. When I watch cancer movies and TV shows about cancer, he takes on the role of “normal” person, acting as sort of a control group/person for my critiquing purposes. I’m always interested in his probably more unbiased points of view as the non-cancer person/thinker/reviewer.
For some brief background, Decoding Annie Parker is a movie set mostly in the 70’s and 80’s, chronicling the stories of two amazing women, Annie Parker, played convincingly by Samantha Morton and Dr. Mary-Claire King, again played convincingly by Helen Hunt. Annie’s family is plagued by hereditary cancer, though the medical community dismisses even entertaining this genetic connection possibility. Annie “knows” better and relentlessly digs for information to support her belief. Throughout the movie, Dr. King is working diligently as a scientific researcher to prove this connection between some breast cancers and genetics.
This is the first reason this movie is important; it’s about two women leading very different, but equally remarkable lives.
Reason number two is because it tells a story that needs telling, a successful research story, specifically, the story of the discovery of the BRCA 1 gene.
Today lives are being saved because of this discovery. It’s always important to remember that where we are today in regards to BRCA knowledge, as well as countless other medical breakthroughs, has not come without considerable effort, determination, research and yes, human heartache. This is exactly why this kind of story is inspiring and needs to be told.
The movie opens with the main character, Annie, and her sister trying to play quietly because their mother is ill. Yes, the mother dies from breast cancer. Annie was only 13 when her mother died. She grows up and gets married at the age of 19 to her pool-cleaner boyfriend, played by Aaron Paul. (By the way, dear hubby was very happy to learn that Aaron Paul was in the movie as dear hubby was/is a huge fan of Breaking Bad). A bit further into the movie, Annie’s sister is also diagnosed with breast cancer and yes, she dies as well.
Understandably, Annie begins to think about cancer – a lot. The story-line, and ultimately the eventual crumbling of her marriage, seem to imply she was obsessed with thinking about cancer. But in her situation, who wouldn’t be?
This movie is also a fine example of how every patient needs to self-advocate – reason number three.
Annie was relentless, or tried to be, despite the condescending attitudes of some of the male doctors in the movie. Along the same lines, Helen Hunt’s character faced some condescending attitudes herself while trying to move forward her research efforts in a male-dominated and yes, discriminatory environment. Yikes! We’ve come a long way, but it’s not like we still don’t have a long way to go… Again, it’s important to see where we’ve been here too.
Ultimately, Annie is diagnosed with breast cancer, too, and the movie handles this quite well, reason number four to give this movie a thumbs up.
Annie’s cancer experience is portrayed realistically, if doing such a thing is even possible in a movie. It was disappointing to see how Annie’s husband ultimately handled things, especially to dear hubby. But as we both acknowledged, being looked upon as no longer sexually attractive by one’s partner is reality for some women after breast surgery. Despite his considerable flaws, the husband was still likable (at least to me) and the couple never stopped caring deeply for one another.
Bottom line is, cancer can and often does do a number on relationships, and sometimes a partner cannot or does not handle things the way we all might hope. Again, reality. The movie showcased this quite well.
The two women finally meet up near the movie’s end and this was one of my favorite parts. The conversation the two women had in the scene, tied things together nicely I thought.
The movie concludes with giving kudos to King for her accomplishments and also insinuating that others would be making money on her discovery – which they did. Many of us are well aware how that all played out… Does the name Myriad ring a bell?
Personally, I would have liked to have learned more about the mother’s and the sister’s cancer experiences. Their cancer stories were too hurried for my liking, especially the sister’s. A movie about hereditary cancer that’s trying to focus on the impact of cancer on a family, should delve into this emotional aspect a bit more. But you know me and how I feel about sharing stories…
I also found the science aspect of the movie a bit lacking. I have a fair amount of basic knowledge about BRCA stuff, and yet I was confused at times during the Dr. King and her associates scenes, as I sat watching and trying to figure out what they were trying to tell us regarding the science. Dear hubby agreed. The road sign/gene markers analogy conversations didn’t really work well for me, but then again, I’m not the best with any kind of getting from point A to point B talk. Having said this, I loved Helen Hunt’s performance.
If you are part of a family affected by hereditary cancer of any kind, Decoding Annie Parker is a must see.
But even if you’re not, you should still see this movie because it showcases the incredible positive impact research can have on real lives. Answers always come through research someone believes in pursuing. It also serves as an important reminder that what these two women did mattered and what you and I do matters too. (reason number five)
In conclusion, this movie is well worth the effort to seek out and see for all the above reasons, plus it’s entertaining! It’s about a serious topic for sure, but there is a fair amount of humor blended in as well; a movie mix which doesn’t always work, but in this one it does. And yes, it is rated ‘R’, but it’s a pretty mild ‘R’.
I liked Decoding Annie Parker a lot and highly recommend it.
Find a theater where it’s playing and go see this movie!
Click on the image to view the official movie trailer – used with permission.
Have you seen this movie?
Do you plan to?
Do you tend to watch or avoid cancer movies and TV shows?